In part 1 of this series we looked at some of the possibilities that speedlights give us and the essential gear we need to get started. Now let’s start taking pictures! In part 2 of this series we’ll take our photos from this, to this in a few easy steps.
I promised a quick start guide and here it is! These settings are for my equipment and worked in the room I used for these examples but your equipment and your room may require slightly different settings, especially on the flash power, but this should get you in the ball park. I’ll expand on how I reached these settings in the article below.
– Camera on Manual (M) mode
– Shutter Speed, 1/200th (Flash Sync Speed)
– Aperture, f/5.6
– ISO 100
– Flash on Manual (M) mode if you have a basic transmitter/receiver set
– Bare Flash, 1/4 Power, 1.5m distance from subject, positioned above and pointing down towards the subject
– Bounce Flash, 1/2 Power, 1.5m distance from subject, pointed up and bouncing down off the ceiling
– Brolly – 1/4 Power, 1.5m distance from subject, positioned above and pointing down towards the subject
As I said, these starting settings work for the room I used in this example – it may be slightly different for you depending on how bright your room is.
Before the flashes start firing we need to set up our camera. This part of the guide assumes we’re working indoors and in a ‘studio’ situation. In a studio the only light in the photograph should be the light we add with flashes. With this in mind we should set up our camera so that when we take a photo without flash we see nothing – just black. We use our camera settings to reduce the level of ambient light in the photo.
Set the camera to Manual (M) mode. Lets start with Shutter Speed. Each camera has a ‘flash sync speed’ (sync speed). This is the fastest shutter speed you can use with flash. Any shutter speed faster than this setting will not expose the whole sensor at the same time and you’ll see a tell-tale black band at the bottom of the frame where the shutter covered the sensor as the flash fired. The sync speed may be different depending on your camera and you should check your camera manual or google it to find out what’s right for you. Using the fastest shutter speed we can will help to reduce the level of the ambient light. For me, it is 1/200th of a second. Next, lets select an aperture. Again, we want to use this setting to help reduce the level of the ambient light. It’s easy to think you should just use the narrowest aperture (highest f/ number) to eliminate the most ambient light but here’s where it gets a little tricky. Speedlights are small flashes which run on 4 little AA batteries – in other words, they don’t have much power. If we close our aperture all the way down to eliminate ambient light then there simply isn’t enough power in the flash to make a well exposed photo. The aperture therefore, must be narrow enough to eliminate some of the ambient light but not so narrow as to cause us to run the flash too hard. Let’s start with an aperture of f/5.6. We can go narrower if required but lets see how we get on. That just leaves us with ISO. The rule of thumb is to use the lowest ISO you can. We can start at ISO 100 but we can increase this if we need to (if the flash is at full power). That takes us to 1/200th of a second, f/5.6 and ISO 100.
These starting settings work for the room I used in this example – it may be slightly different for your room depending how bright it is.
Now we have our camera set up, lets position the flash. Attach the transmitter to the hotshoe on top of your camera and the receiver to the foot of your flash. Attach the bracket to the lightstand and fix the flash and receiver to the bracket using the foot on the bottom of the receiver. If you’re using a basic transmitter / receiver set then the flash should be set to M (manual) and you can adjust the flash power manually. If your transmitter and receiver have channel switches they should be set to the same positions on both the transmitter and receiver. Make sure the camera, the trigger set and the flash are all switched on. Now, when you take a photo the flash should fire! And we’re off…
From here on in, all we really have to do is position the flash and adjust it’s power. For this article we will place the flash in 2 positions (imaginatively called Position 1 and Position 2). P1 is directly in front of the subject and P2 is 45degrees to the side (whichever side you choose) and for consistency we’ll keep the flash about 1.5m away from the subject.
Earlier, I promised to tell you about the 3 Bs of flash. This is not a common photography term -I just made up that term for this article (but I’m sure it will take off!). My 3 Bs are – Bare, Bounce and Brolly.
‘Bare’ is the bare flash, undiffused, pointing directly at the subject. This is the simplest way to light someone and the small, direct lightsourse produces a bright, hard light with sharp edged shadows. You might see this kind of hard light in a fashion spread. It’s very direct and revealing – fine if your subject has flawless skin and couture clothing, maybe not so flattering if they don’t. In the test shot above you can see the flash is firing but it’s not bright enough. Let’s increase the power until the photo is well exposed. In this case I increased the power to 1/2 power.
The next step from using bare, direct flash is to bounce the flash – either off the ceiling or to the side off a wall. Simply direct the head of the flash up towards the ceiling. The light source effectively becomes much bigger because instead of it being a little flash bulb it’s now a huge patch of white light which rains down on your subject from above. A bigger lightsource is a softer light source and so it tends to be more flattering. You can bounce up but you can bounce off a wall to the side or a wall behind you or into the corner where the wall and ceiling meet. Just remember your geometry – it’s just like snooker – if you get your angles wrong then the light could miss your subject.
The third B is for ‘Brolly’. The shoot-through umbrella is probably the simplest, cheapest and most underrated diffuser you can buy. As the name suggests, you shoot the light through the translucent white material of the brolly which makes the surface area of the umbrella the lightsource. Again, bigger is softer and softer is (generally) more flattering. When I’m on location, no matter where I am, if I’ve got a shoot through brolly then I’ve got a portable window – big, bright, directional light.
The photos so far have had the flash about 1.5m to 2m from the subject but if the flash is closer to the subject we get a completely different look. Angelina took a couple of steps away from the wall towards the light source (Brolly). With the subject being much closer to the light we need to adjust the power of the flash down by a couple of stops from 1/4 to 1/16th power. Notice that the light on Angelina is now much softer and the background is also much darker. What a difference!
In just a few shots we’ve gone from a flat and lifeless photo to something that looks much more polished and professional. We’ve covered setting up the camera, the 3Bs and we’ve created 3 distinctly different looks. In part 3 of this series we’ll venture outside where we’ll discover how to use the flash in combination with the ambient light.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments.
If this has got your interest why not come along to my Speedlight Seminar? You’ll learn how to get started with off-camera flash in the company of like-minded photo enthusiasts. Click here to find out more.